“Oh, Jerry, let’s not ask for the moon—we have the stars!” So said Bette Davis in 1942’s “Now Voyager,” one of the best loved movies of the war years (WWII).
Flash forward to Horizon Theatre’s current offering “Shooting Star,” by Stephen Dietz, running through March 14, and you’ll find a winsome, wistful romantic comedy charmingly performed by Jim Hammond and Leigh Campbell-Taylor (the entire cast), directed by Jeff Adler. And it has nothing to do with “Now Voyager” except for a romantic yearning and a lot of “what if’s”; more about that later.
Reed (Mr. Hammond) and Elena (Ms. Campbell-Taylor) are two middle-aged strangers stranded at a snowbound airport in 2005. She resembles a rather stylish Grace Slick wannabe; he is nice-looking, Arrow collar, conservative. But they’re not really strangers: Many years ago, in the wild and woolly 70’s (who else—besides me—remembers?), they were college sweethearts, no, lovers, a chick and a cat (we actually used to talk like that); and they prided themselves in their devil-may-care, open relationship. Suddenly, after many years, there they are, alone together, in a curiously deserted airport.
Gingerly at first, they begin catching up, and their separate stories emerge: He’s in a rocky marriage but has a much-loved 12-year-old daughter, Kirsten; Elena’s a free spirit, very New Age, centered (sort of), live-for-the-moment—and yet she’s apparently stuck in a boring, dead-end job. She gently chides him for becoming so “red State”; he reminds her that appearances are deceptive. He’s right.
There are reminiscences of past conversations, intimacies, and deeply felt misunderstandings—some of which I cannot reveal without a spoiler alert. The playwright quite effectively alternates between conversations and short monologues. All of this occurs under 90 minutes, no intermission. At times I’m reminded of “A Little Night Music” (especially “Remember”) – without, of course, Sondheim’s brilliant music and lyrics. Sometimes there’s the comic wackiness of “Same Time, Next Year,” another two-character play. Whether Ms. Campbell-Taylor is spreading her yoga mat on the airport floor (terrific set design by Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay) or trying to take a nap on the uncomfortable airport chairs, she reveals a most endearing comedic sense. Mr. Hammond’s Reed shows us an earnest vulnerability which is unexpected and appealing. The play could easily suffer in lesser hands.
“Shooting Star” could, in fact, implode from a lack of dramatic tension and too many of those “what-if’s.” (A line from Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy” pops up: “I have enough trouble with the “what now’s” without starting in on the “what if’s.”) But the play is rescued by showing us the divine comedy of humans and our aching need to connect; and by revealing that purity of heart, as William Saroyan once said, is the one success really worth having.